|Year Of Production||1995|
|Running Time||101:31 (Case: 106)|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (57:10)||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Language Select Then Programme|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Brett Leonard|
Paramount Home Entertainment
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, mildly|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
"Here's a new composition... this one's called First You Suffer, Then You Die!"
If ever there was a film that proved an unknown actor with a lot of talent could easily outdo well-known actors with a similar level of talent, then Virtuosity is it. Before Russell Crowe was spotted by Sharon Stone, and she insisted upon him starring in The Quick And The Dead, he put in a great, startling performance in a very ordinary science-fiction action film called Virtuosity. It should come as no surprise to those who have seen the film theatrically that it was directed by Brett Leonard, he who already committed the sin of overestimating the microprocessor's abilities in The Lawnmower Man. I guess the main problem with Virtuosity is that while every one else decided to sit back and hope that the world forgot about their appearances in this film, Russell Crowe chose to ham up his performance like there was no tomorrow. This can be partly explained by the simple fact that in Hollywood, for actors who are just getting a start like he was at the time, there usually is no tomorrow.
The film, such as it is, begins with Lieutenant Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) and John Donovan (Costas Mandylor)
phoning in their performances emerging in a subway station where all of the commuters repeat one or two sentences over, and over, and over. They are pursuing an entity we only know as SID 6.7 (Russell Crowe), whose true nature is not fully revealed for a while just yet. After liberally showering one another with bullets, SID 6.7 manages to get the better of both Donovan and Barnes, giving one of the best serial killer lines in the history of film to Barnes (as seen above) before Donovan and Barnes disappear. It seems that all this time, they were in a rather advanced sort of virtual reality simulator designed as a training aid for policemen, while Commissioner Elizabeth Deane (Louise Fletcher) and lesser bigwigs such as Wallace (William Fichtner) and Doctor Madison Carter (Kelly Lynch) were observing. Deane is not happy that the prisoners she is using to ferret out problems with the virtual reality system are dying. SID 6.7, however, has discovered that cheating and killing things for real is a much bigger rush than playing along with the rules of his virtual world, a fact that Donovan can testify to since he has just died from neural information overload.
Once back in the prison, Parker is set upon by neo-Nazis while Doctor Darrel Lindenmeyer (Stephen Spinella) spinelessly allows himself to be talked into committing a series of acts that will allow a SID 6.7 to take over a nanotech android and wreak havoc on the real world. After a bit of chicanery involving a more passive virtual reality construct called Sheila 3.2 (Heidi Schanz), SID 6.7 finds himself free to have his own kind of fun in the world of flesh and blood. After he attempts to "compose a symphony" in a nightclub, prompting an attention-grabbing cameo from Traci Lords, we divert into some tangents about how SID 6.7 was constructed. I won't spoil the finer details of this plot element, but I am sure you're wondering why a Lieutenant like Parker Barnes would be in prison with the likes of John Donovan. Essentially, when Barnes was on the police force, he was getting between a media-hungry terrorist named Matthew Grimes (Christopher Murray) and his targets. Grimes decided that kidnapping Barnes' wife and child would be a good idea, but he didn't count on Barnes raiding his headquarters and instigating violence that left not only Grimes dead, but also Barnes' family and some news reporters who just happened to be present. Frankly, this entire tangent should have been dispensed with, even if it does help the scenario make more sense, because it bogs the movie down just a tad too much.
There is one, and only one, compelling reason to view this film: to enjoy Russell Crowe hamming it up as the practically invincible bad guy, while the rest of the cast seems to be half-asleep. Just watching the effort Russell puts into simple facets of his role such as enjoying the screams of potential victims or eating glass will convince you that the man is big in Hollywood right now for a reason. If for no other reason, grab this film to find out what a difference it makes when an actor does not assume the paycheques will keep coming. It's worth five stars for his acting alone, making it such a pity that the rest of the production is so utterly without heart.
The video transfer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. If ever there was a film with visuals that advertised widescreen display units, this is it.
The sharpness of this transfer is exquisite, although not quite reference level, with some of the special effects appearing to lose a little resolution compared to the rest of the film. This is only a minor complaint, however. The shadow detail is excellent, with plenty of detail resolved in the darker sections of the transfer, the best examples being when SID 6.7 takes hostages at the nightclub or the TV station. There is no low-level noise.
The colours of the transfer vary slightly, with the virtual world being bright and very luminous, while the real world has a tendency to be very dark and muted. There are a couple of daytime sequences in the real world, but these still don't quite match the pastel-like arrangements of the virtual world. There are no problems with composite artefacts or colour bleeding.
MPEG artefacts were not a problem in this transfer, and the disc overall has much more resolution compared to the Region 1 version by virtue of the fact that the film has nearly twice as much space allocated to it. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some aliasing that was mostly minor, although there were a few instances, such as at 66:41, that were borderline distracting. Film artefacts are present in slightly greater amounts than one would expect for a film of this age, with plenty of black marks on offer throughout the transfer. Most of these marks were inconspicuous, but their tendency to appear in bursts was a little distracting at times.
There are no subtitles for the hearing impaired on this disc, and those looking to the regular English subtitles for relief will be appalled to find that there are some appalling instances of variation from the dialogue scattered throughout the subtitle track. A classic example is when Russell Crowe says "Just because I'm carrying around the joy of killing your family around inside me doesn't mean we can't be friends", but the subtitles render this as "I enjoyed killing your family, but it doesn't mean we can't be friends". This is just one of many classic examples where the subtitles vary so wildly from the actual dialogue that it alters the character of the film, such as it is. Whomever handled the subtitling on this disc really ought to be ashamed of themselves, since they don't even seem to know the difference between terabytes and kilobytes.
This disc uses the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 57:10, during Chapter 13. There are numerous places a few minutes before this point where a layer change would have been much less conspicuous, especially given that this is right in the middle of a musical cue.
Accompanying a smooth visual transfer that, in spite of some minor flaws, could be used as demonstration material, is an audio transfer that can be used to show those who fail to understand why they need a subwoofer exactly what they are missing out on.
There are four soundtracks included on this DVD, all of them rendered in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a bitrate of 448 kilobits per second. This makes a very nice difference from the Region 1 disc, where there is an additional Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded English soundtrack, which annoyingly happens to be the default. I listened to the original English dialogue and sampled portions of the film in Italian and Spanish. There is some variance in fidelity with the Italian and Spanish dubs, with the dialogue being more recessed or more prominent in the soundtracks respectively.
The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, all the better to hear how clumsy and awkward some of it is. I would be marvelling at the way Denzel Washington could deliver some of his lines with a straight face if he didn't look like he was sleeping his way through the film. Russell Crowe makes sure that even his screams of rage can be understood, in spite of the distortion effect that is applied to his voice during such sequences as his quick exit from the nightclub. There are no subjectively discernable problems with audio sync.
The score music in this film is credited to Christopher Young, while a selection of original songs by India, Traci Lords, Louis Vega, and Ben Watkins are also included for good measure. Some of the contemporary songs, most notably the song performed by Lords in the nightclub, match the on-screen action very well, while others simply fall flat. The score music, on the other hand, matches the on-screen action superbly, with every manic, ominous, or tender moment being augmented by the music in a way that most of the performances cannot match.
The surround channels are aggressively utilised during the action sequences, and subtly utilised during other moments in order to create an immersive sound field that draws the viewer into the film and keeps them a part of the action. Right from the get-go, we are treated to some excellent uses of the entire sound field to make the film seem more energetic and powerful than it probably should be. The virtual-reality gunfight between Denzel Washington, Costas Mandylor, and Russell Crowe that begins at 4:28 keeps both the surround channels and the subwoofer going with scarcely a moment to breathe. This is a disc one would use to show their friends why they have five loudspeakers arranged carefully around them for viewing films.
Like the surround channels, the subwoofer is aggressively utilised throughout the film to support the music, the action sequences, and every other sound in the film you care to think of that is bass-heavy. The LFE channel is given a consistent work-out throughout the feature that will easily justify your investment in a good subwoofer.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menu is static, basically a replication of the cover artwork, and 16x9 Enhanced.
Presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with 16x9 Enhancement and a mildly flat-sounding Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack, this two-minute and twenty-five second trailer doesn't even mention the real star of the show by name.
The Region 1 disc misses out on;
The two discs are very similar in most respects. The RSDL formatting of the local disc allows for a much smoother, more film-like image, and the Region 1 disc has the English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack set as the default, which is rather annoying. You won't miss that soundtrack, as it is very flat in comparison to its discrete counterpart. Although the subtitles on the R1 disc are a closer match to the actual dialogue than those on the R4 (but then, so too would be the Spanish subtitles), the font they are rendered in on the R4 disc is much more pleasant to look at. People may be picky about having Russell Crowe's voice presented in its correct pitch, but the difference was not that noticeable to me. The R4 disc wins by virtue of a smoother-looking transfer.
Virtuosity is a great idea let down by a script of variable quality and some lazy acting, and it makes an excellent demonstration of Russell Crowe's ability to steal the show. It wasn't long before he demonstrated that show-stealing talent again in The Quick And The Dead, and fans of the classy, cool style he applies to playing bad guys will lap this up. The only other real reason to indulge in this film is some well-executed action sequences and eye-catching special effects.
The video transfer is almost of reference quality.
The audio transfer is of reference quality.
The extras? Well, there is a rather ordinary theatrical trailer.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-835|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, DTX 5.6T Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|